Anti-encroachment operation in Sukkur triggers violence

Updated 22 Nov 2020

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LARKANA: Dwellers of various localities along irrigation channels in the city hold a protest near Jinnahbagh against planned demolition of ‘illegally raised’ houses and other structures.—PPI
LARKANA: Dwellers of various localities along irrigation channels in the city hold a protest near Jinnahbagh against planned demolition of ‘illegally raised’ houses and other structures.—PPI

SUKKUR: Several hundred enraged men, women and youths took to the streets and attacked anti-encroachment staff and demolition workers with stones when many illegally raised houses, shops, sheds and other structures were razed in pursuance of a relevant order of the Sindh High Court.

The court had last week asked deputy commissioners of all districts to identify the irrigation department’s lands illegally occupied by ordinary people and influential figures. It asked the district administrations and irrigation department to get the encroached upon lands retrieved and seek assistance of police and Rangers personnel wherever necessary.

On Saturday, when an anti-encroachment operation was launched in the Bashirabad area and localities along Khirthar Canal, a large number of people surrounded the officials and workers engaged in the demolition activity. However, the situation grew tense when bulldozers hit two mosques and an Imambargah standing along the stretch that was being cleared.

A crackdown on stone-pelting crowd was carried out and an unspecified number of protesters were picked up.

People started raising slogans against the government, irrigation department and district administration and some of them pelted the heavy machinery and officials’ vehicles with stones.

The police force escorting the staff and demolition squad lobbed teargas shells to disperse the violent mobs at several places but this only aggravated the situation.

Crackdown, shelling on mob after protesters clash with police

The officials concerned told local reporters that the operation was being carried out on the court order and they had to comply with it.

The high court had initially ordered removal of all encroachments on irrigation department’s land within a month but no action was taken. Later, the authorities concerned were given another month’s time to comply with the order but again they failed to retrieve the lands. Last week, the court gave the authorities three days to remove all encroachments and submit a compliance report.

During the anti-encroachment operation in Bashirabad, two mosques and an Imambargah standing on the dyke of Khirthar Canal were hit by bulldozers which triggered a wave of unrest and anguish among onlookers. Enraged people attacked the vehicles employed in the operation with stones and police responded to the mob with teargas shelling. The clash continued for several hours.

Later, it transpired that one mosque and an Imambargah were demolished but the caretakers of another mosque requested the district administration to let them remove it by themselves.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Sindh general secretary Maulana Rashid Mehmood Soomro, along with a large number of party workers and supporters, rushed to the area.

He climbed up a bulldozer to speak to the workers. He strongly criticised the PTI government for not protecting dwellers living in the areas for decades. He condemned the operation saying that “several mosques have been demolished in the darkness of the night”.

Sukkur DC Rana Adeel Tasawwur and SSP Irfan Sammo also proceeded to the operation area to help officials bring the situation under control.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020